The Arkansas State Senate voted 21-12 Monday (April 26) to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of SB 298, a bill that would give state and local law enforcement the ability to not cooperate with federal law enforcement officials.
It restricts local or state law enforcement or public officials from enforcing or assisting federal agencies or officers “in the enforcement of any federal statute, executive order, or federal agency directive that conflicts with the Arkansas Constitution.” The measure specifically addresses federal requirements to register or track firearms, any prohibition against possession or ownership of a firearm or accessory, or the confiscation of firearms or ammunition.
Hutchinson had expressed concerns that prosecutors would be hamstrung in their cases against violent criminals. There were also concerns over the constitutionality of the bill, and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission warned it could lose close to $20 million in federal help on public lands that are aided by federal law enforcement.
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, apparently broke an agreement with Senate President Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, as details of their morning meeting spilled out on the Senate floor during the afternoon debate. Hickey said Stubblefield had agreed earlier not to push for the veto override, but would file a new bill with amended language to address concerns raised in the veto.
“You backed up on an agreement we had this morning,” Hickey said to Stubblefield. Stubblefield never refuted the charge, but seemed perturbed as he walked away from the well after bringing up a motion to override the veto.
A motion to reconsider the bill passed by a narrow margin, just 19-13. However, after nearly an hour-long debate senators passed the veto override on the 21-12 margin with two members voting present. It needed 18 votes to be reconsidered and to override the governor’s veto.
“If we don’t override the veto, I think nothing happens,” said Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Oark. He said the imperfect measure should be put into effect until it could be cleaned up because “constituents tell me all the time, ‘protect me from D.C.’”
Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, who sat on a key committee that heard testimony on the bill, said concerns were raised throughout the process and he discussed them in the Senate debate on the first vote on the measure. He said overriding the veto would be a mistake.
“This is not the time to file a bill and fix a mess,” he said. “The override needs to stay in and we need to go home.”
The House of Representatives must still vote to override the veto to complete the process. The House is adjourned until Tuesday at 10 a.m. Tomorrow is expected to be the last day of the legislative session until later this year when lawmakers will return to take up Congressional redistricting.
It appears that a bill to clean up problems may be filed, but it is unclear if it can pass both chambers before the legislature recesses for its extended period on Tuesday.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, filed a bill Monday that was fashioned after a Montana law that prosecutors and law enforcement said solved the problems of SB 298. She withdrew the bill after hearing that Sen. Stubblefield planned to file correcting language for consideration. As of 4 p.m., Stubblefield’s new bill had not been filed, although he circulated a draft some members.